Lima Charlie News offers a brief spotlight on new team member and Political Correspondent Brendan McKinnon.
Having a spotlight article in an exciting, new, independent news organization can be a thrill. Or so Senior Political Correspondent, and star of “The Horse Race,” Mike Connolly recently thought (or may have thought). His new weekly podcast has gotten some interesting attention inside the Beltway and among some political pundits, mostly the kind that run in tough crowds. Mostly. But what about his partner in crime on the show? The Thelma to his Louise?
Not to be outdone, Lima Charlie editorial decided that Brendan McKinnon, Lima Charlie’s National Political Correspondent, deserved a shot in the white-hot spotlight too. So with marching orders, Connolly set out to interview McKinnon. What follows is the result. – Editors
Lima Charlie’s Senior Political Correspondent, U.S. Army combat veteran Mike Connolly, sat down with our newest team member Brendan McKinnon. Brendan, a US Coast Guard veteran who served three tours at sea and deployed to Iraq, joins as Lima Charlie News’ newest Political Correspondent. Mike asked Brendan some questions about his service and his new mission assignment here at Lima Charlie.
Mike: Brendan, it’s an honor and a pleasure to work with you and welcome you to Lima Charlie News. We’re thrilled that you’ve joined Lima Charlie’s political team coverage and that you’ve brought your amazing talents to our new enterprise. We’re especially thrilled to have 2 podcasts under our belt co-starring you! It’s been truly great to banter with you on “The Horse Race”. Here’s to many, many more broadcasts!
Brendan: Thanks Mike … I’m glad our sarcastic political ramblings are finally finding the audience they deserve.
Mike: You attended the US Coast Guard Academy, and played football for their team. What are the factors that brought you to the Academy, and is it something that you had always wanted to do, or fell into a little bit?
Brendan: Almost everyone in my family served in the military, so it was a foregone conclusion to me that I’d eventually serve in some capacity. I was really interested in the Naval Academy and Marine Corps when I was in high school, but I spent a lot of time looking into the other service academies and ROTC programs.
I didn’t initially focus on the Coast Guard because, like most Americans, I didn’t truly understand what the service did, but like you said I “fell into it a little bit” because of two factors. The first was getting recruited for football, which actually made me start researching the Coast Guard more seriously because I grew up watching the Army-Navy Game and loved the idea of getting to play at an academy. The second was September 11th. I was a senior in high school in 2001, and after the attacks I thought the Coast Guard and Homeland Security would play a bigger role in ensuring that never happened again. I was really drawn to the mission of preventing attacks at home rather than waiting for the next one and retaliating…it really seemed like that would be the new front line.
Mike: What was the experience like of serving as an officer, with that level of responsibility? How much do you think the experience would have been different for you if you had enlisted and not gone to the Academy?
Brendan: I don’t think the experience would’ve been too different because the Coast Guard does a great job giving people a lot of responsibility very early in their careers, especially junior enlisted personnel. We had Chiefs and Petty Officers serving as Boarding Officers or Deck Watch Officers on every ship I served on, and they were always the best people to reach out to if there was a leadership or operational challenge. I probably would have stayed in longer if I’d enlisted, because if you’re enlisted you can do the fun and exciting stuff your entire career. If you’re an officer your days of driving ships or hopping over railings on boardings are pretty numbered once you throw those O-4 shoulder boards on.
Mike: Was there a moment, an event, a realization during your service that affected you the most?
Brendan: I spent most of my time at sea in the Caribbean and Florida Straits, so we conducted a lot of Migrant Interdiction Operations. It’s pretty easy to get desensitized when you’re dealing with hundreds of migrants at a time, but I vividly remember the first time we interdicted a raft with children on it. On one hand we’ve got immigration laws that we’re out there to enforce, and everybody on the ship did it with professionalism and compassion. On the other hand you’ve got a family that’s literally risking their lives on a homemade raft just to try to get their kids to America. It’s a hard balance to strike. It made me want to get involved with immigration policy to try to find a better way to handle migrant and refugee issues, but it also made me incredibly proud and grateful to be serving a country that inspires people to risk everything to get here.
Mike: In retrospect, how do you view the profession of arms?
Brendan: Now that I’m viewing it from the other side I hope it’s something that never really ends. It’s pretty easy to get people to buy into corps values and trust each other when there’s a mission that needs to be executed and their lives are truly in each other’s hands. I think the next step for our generation is taking that ethos and experience with us when we take the uniform off and using it to keep serving our communities. How do we keep living by the code and values of the “profession of arms” when we’re no longer armed professionals? I guess that’s a question I’m still grappling with, but outlets like Lima Charlie are definitely helping answer it.
Mike: You’ve been out of the Coast Guard for barely any time at all. When did you officially leave the service, and what has the transition process been like becoming a civilian again?
Brendan: I officially left the service on August 1, and I started working on a Marine Corps veteran’s Congressional campaign on August 2. There were a lot of other veterans working in the campaign office, so having that comradery and working toward a goal that was bigger than a paycheck definitely made the transition easier. It helped reassure me that I could keep serving even if I wasn’t in the military anymore…getting more than four hours of sleep was just icing on the cake at that point.
Mike: Lima Charlie’s core mission is to train veterans and service members worldwide to become journalists, to enable them to report on the world around them. How do you see yourself as a part of this mission?
Brendan: Well like I said, I think most post-9/11 veterans are driven by a desire to keep serving and impacting their communities in some capacity. There are a lot of great ways to do that and great organizations that help us, but there aren’t many outlets focused on helping veterans find their journalistic voices. So many people today are distrustful of the media, but if we find a way to leverage respect people have for the military into strong, balanced journalism I think it’ll keep veterans and the general public well-informed and engaged on civic issues.
Mike: As you know, Lima Charlie’s goal is to report the news in an unbiased, non-partisan manner. When we report on the news, unless it’s obviously an op-ed, we try our best to stick to the facts. There’s enough running commentary in the mainstream news today. How do you see yourself reporting on U.S. politics for LC? Especially in the current heated political environment?
Brendan: It’s tough in politics because everything is so split right now…we’re facing polarization levels in this country that we probably haven’t seen since before the Civil War. I’m coming into this position at Lima Charlie with the assumption that we’re not actually as divided as polls or critics suggest. If you remove the names or party designations next to issues and ideas then most Americans agree on what we care about and what we want, we just have slightly different opinions on how to get there. If we can keep Lima Charlie readers and listeners engaged and entertained then I think we’ll see that there’s a lot of common ground to work with out there. Lima Charlie’s got a Red Sox fan and an Orioles fan co-hosting a political podcast in the middle of a pennant race…cooperation isn’t dead yet.
Mike: What political issues are of the most interest to you? What made you want to cover those issues in a journalistic outlet, rather than in op-eds or advocacy alone?
Brendan: Well I’m obviously interested in national security and veterans’ issues…that’s what drew me to Lima Charlie in the first place. I’m also really interested in immigration and drug policy because I spent so much time enforcing both and I think we need massive reform on those fronts to adequately address either issue. We already talked about polarization, and I was worried that if I only focused on advocacy or op-eds I’d immediately lose half of the intended audience. Hopefully covering these issues from a journalistic baseline keeps both sides engaged and stokes a conversation that goes past screaming insults at each other.
Mike: Podcast listeners all across the country are thrilled that you’re co-hosting The Horse Race with me, a weekly political news and entertainment podcast from Lima Charlie News. What can listeners expect from the show and where can they find it?
Brendan: I don’t know if they’re thrilled yet, but I think we can get them there before the election. A lot of people that I talk to are already sick of this election cycle and just want it to be over. It’s understandable given how long our primary process has gotten and how insane this particular cycle has been, but it’s still pretty disheartening to see people throwing their hands up about something that’s so important. I hope our podcast can balance news, analysis, sarcasm and Michael Scott references in a way that keeps people engaged in the political process. If that doesn’t work I guess we’ll just nerd out about Hamilton for an hour every week.
Mike: What articles are you going to work on first, or are most excited to dive into in the coming weeks?
Brendan: I’m excited to focus on the Presidential election and how all the candidates plan to address defense and veteran issues, starting with the IAVA Commander-in-Chief Forum. We’ve been at war for 15 years and four Presidential elections, but when you look past flag waving and lip service there’s shockingly little discussion in our elections about the real issues facing our military and veterans. The Commander-in-Chief Forum is going to force the candidates to take questions from veterans and have a serious discussion about national security. Hopefully it’ll set a strong precedent for future elections and help keep these issues in the limelight.
Mike: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Brendan: Assuming we’re not retired off all of our podcast royalties by then? If I can survive law school I just want to use my degree to stay in public service. The same desire to help people that pushed me into the Coast Guard is what pushed me into this career choice, so I’ll be happy if I can stay involved with immigration or refugee issues from a policy perspective.
I’ll still have plenty of time for AL East trash talk and Office quotes…so hopefully the podcast isn’t going anywhere.
Mike: Thank you Brendan. We here at Lima Charlie News welcome you to our family, and can’t wait to see what you can do!
Stay tuned for ‘The Horse Race’ every week. This week, Lima Charlie welcomes new Horse Racer veteran Dan Webb. Listen in for political banter from Mike, Brendan and Dan, the trifecta of podcasts.
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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Michael D. Connolly, Senior Political Correspondent, Lima Charlie News
Michael Connolly is a former Army Staff Sergeant who served in the Infantry, completing two combat tours to Iraq. He currently serves as the Director of Military and Veterans Affairs for the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland-College Park. Michael is a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council. He graduated with an M.S. in Political Science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Follow Michael on Twitter: @MConnollyLC
Brendan McKinnon, National Political Correspondent, Lima Charlie News
Brendan McKinnon is a Juris Doctor candidate at Boston College Law School. He previously served for ten years in the U.S. Coast Guard, including three afloat tours and one deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Brendan earned a BS in Government from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and an MPS in Strategic Public Relations from George Washington University. He interned on the Capitol Hill staff of a Congressman while a Cadet at the Coast Guard Academy, has field and operations experience on additional Congressional campaigns, is a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council and a Mentor with Veterans in Global Leadership. Follow Brendan on Twitter: @BMcKinnonLC